Update on the arts complex

Martello Developments hoarding on Rock Channel

Martello Developments’ Bridgepoint arts complex on Rock Channel has been thrown into doubt by a report from property consultants Bespoke Property Experts.

Their report, submitted to Rother District Council in late January and prior to the current Covid-19 lock down, claims the original analysis on its financial viability by housing consultants Altair was flawed.

The proposed development at Bridgepoint, Rock Channel

Martello Developments had submitted a planning application to convert the existing redundant Bournes warehouse into a new multi-purpose arts centre which will include workshops, gallery space, mixed use art space and rehearsal space with three live/work artist apartments on the first floor.

The application includes a request to demolish an existing riverside building and replace it with a new two storey riverside restaurant with a holiday let flat on the first floor, and the construction of five new riverside houses and three new mews houses, which would join the five houses that have already been completed.

The new development also includes the creation of a new public park and an upgrade to the riverside walkway along the River Brede as outlined in a previous story in Rye News.

Sale price substantially reduced

Martello Developments have already completed five houses but, as the property experts point out, four have yet to be sold, and the sale price has been substantially reduced in recent months. It was by using the profits from the sale of these houses that was going to help pay for the arts complex.

Bespoke Property Experts said, “In their appraisal, (housing consultants) Altair have not allowed for any purchaser’s costs for the site, nor for any sales and marketing costs of the commercial properties. They also have excluded community infrastructure levy (CIL) contributions from the costs. If these adjustments were made their own appraisal would show the scheme to be unviable.”

The CIL contribution refers to a financial contribution a developer must pay to the local authorities who will then use the funds to pay for community projects, for example – amenities like children’s play parks or local street and transport improvements.

Bridgepoint, Rock Channel

The report goes on to point out that because the proposed artists’ live/work accommodation will be let rent free, “once this is taken into account the scheme is completely unviable”. But the experts’ main concern is the delay in selling the current houses to enable the construction of the gallery and arts centre.

In their report Bespoke Property Experts claim Altair had calculated the average sale price for the five riverfront houses at over £1.5 million each. The houses are current being sold by Rye estate agents Phillips & Stubbs “from £850,000.”

In their conclusion, Bespoke Property Experts say, even with “all the properties (being) sold on the open market the scheme does not produce any surplus…to provide for any affordable housing or s106 contributions (payments to reduce the impact of planning proposals) in addition to the payment of a CIL contribution.”

Sotheby’s litigation – a correction and apology

In a further twist to the Bridgepoint scheme’s financial viability Rye News had reported that the Kowitz family finances, the family behind Martello Developments, have been hit by a $6.6 million compensation payment to Sotheby’s following litigation over an alleged fake painting attributed to Dutch master Frans Hals.

[Editor’s note: A letter has now been received from Nigel Rowley, of Mackrell Solicitors, Savoy Hill, London, on behalf of David and Sarah Kowitz as set out below. We stand corrected and apologise for the mistake. Charles Harkness, Editor]

“Rye News published an article this morning [April 24] headed “Arts Complex In Doubt” – written by your correspondent Kevin McCarthy.

Under the sub-heading “Sotheby’s litigation” the article refers to a legal case between Sotheby’s, an art dealer called Mark Weiss, and a corporate entity called Fairlight Art Ventures LLP [which you incorrectly title].

A quantum leap is then made to suggest, quite wrongly, that an adverse first instance judgment in that case, in itself entirely unconnected to your article, would in some way “hit……the Kowitz family finances”

I will assume at present that your correspondent’s comments are simply down to a lack of understanding of the corporate world .  To suggest that there is any legal connection between a corporate LLP and an individual makes a mockery of hundreds of years of well-established corporate law.

To put it simply for you, the finances of Fairlight Art Ventures LLP and the “Kowitz family finances” are entirely unconnected.

To suggest that my client’s family finances are adversely affected by a judgment against a corporate body risks substantial damage to my clients.

I must insist, please, that you publish an apology and correction…

The painting was originally sold in 2011 for $11 million by art dealer Mark Weiss and the Kowitz’s art vehicle, Fairlight Art Ventures. In April 2019 a London judge ordered Mark Weiss to pay Sotheby’s $4.2 million and followed up in December 2019 by ordering that the remainder must be paid by Fairlight Art Ventures.

Martello’s “landbank”

Martello Developments’ Grist Mill site

In recent years Martello Developments have been buying up large tracts of land in Rye and along Rye Harbour Road.

In addition to the main Rock Channel development they have also bought the Grist Mill site; The Cabin overlooking the River Brede; as well as the large field off Rye Harbour Road, or the “strategic gap” as it is referred to in Rye’s Neighbourhood Plan. This site is on the opposite side of the River Brede from Rock Channel.

More recently, they have bought a large swathe of land and buildings overlooking the River Brede at the eastern end of Rock Channel under a new company name, Martello Marine.

Martello Developments’ land on Harbour Road

The fact that they own land either side of the River Brede has led some to ask if they are the “developers”, recently mentioned in a Natural England report on the Coast Path, who were considering building a pedestrian and cycle bridge over the river. The report had said such a link would allow walkers to avoid the dangerous A259 and Rye Harbour Road junction – which is the principal local barrier to a continuous Coast Path around the south-east of England.

Martello Marine on Rock Channel

The assembling of such a substantial landbank begs the question, do Martello Developments have a “master plan” for the town? If so, it is only being revealed piecemeal in planning applications.

The result is that Rye’s residents may have limited influence over how this shapes up and on setting the priorities for investing in community infrastructure or affordable housing.

Charitable giving

The Kowitz family also run two charitable foundations which focus on giving funds to support the arts: the Fairlight Arts Trust and Kowitz Family Foundation. Both of them have generously donated substantial amounts to the arts in Rye and Hastings. In recent years the Kowitz family’s foundations have supported the Rye Arts Festival, Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival, and the Rye Creative Centre Theatre.

Rye News has asked Martello Developments to comment on the Bespoke Property Experts’ report but, at the time of publication, has yet to receive a response.

Image Credits: Kevin McCarthy , Martello Developments .


  1. If a bridge is put on Rock Channel, is it going to be tall enough for the yachts that moor on the strand plus anyone using the visitors moorings?

    • So would I.
      Who stands to gain from this hatchet job? It’s a lot of money to comission a report from Bespoke Property Experts (who I note are based in Sussex.) There is no transparency about who commissioned this report and who is paying for it.
      If it’s public money, it’s a misuse of funds.
      If it’s private money…who and why….

  2. ” … and an upgrade to the riverside walkway along the River Brede …” Well a good start would be to put back the proper access to the path behind the unsold luxury flats. Nice bit of tarmac, but you can’t get to the start or finish of it…

  3. Interesting reading kevin McCarthys report on martello developments obvious crisis, and it doesn’t make good reading for the citizens of this town,yes we all welcomed this corner of Rye being developed,after years of dereliction, but do we really need 1.5 million pound houses,for their vanity project .we have plenty of arts centres in Rye,including the Creative centre, that relys on handouts,and the generosity of East Sussex county council, but will never be sustainable in actually making a profit.So what next are we going too see a fishmarket road scenario, especially on their grist mill site, this eyesore doesn’t bode well, on one of our main arteries into town, or will the councils, who are supposed to be custodians tell martello clean up their eyesore, especially as their motto is Investing in the future of this town, and not blighting it, like the grist mill building.

    • Not all welcomed it. It looked like nothing more than alot of fluff to develop and sell a load of high priced houses. And no-one managed to effectively offer a solution to the obvious transport/parking issues.

    • Rye Creative Centre doesn’t rely on handouts. It is funded by the money it generates from renting out studio spaces to 30 local creative businesses

  4. Especially in the current environment, when all communities need a generosity of spirit, I am disappointed with the apparent goals of this article. BridgePoint has already offered opportunities for community children and adult residents to enjoy arts -including music and other performances – and a lovely new landscape. Why, then, focus on digging up negative old news to apparently dissuade a generous benefactor from wanting to continue to invest in Rye for the future?

  5. Not stating who sponsored the report by Bespoke Property Experts makes it impossible to judge their motives for preparing it. It issue of “viability” is one for the developers. Projects such as this with a large emphasis on providing new public facilities do not have to have a narrow “financial viability” as it is up to the developer to determine what his criteria are. I would suggest that the serious intent of this project is validated by the patience shown in dealing with the ludicrously long planning process hat apparently seems to be the norm with Rother.
    I would like to support the point made by Abigail Cooper. Rye News does not mention all the wonderful experiences that we have enjoyed over the last year or so eg the showing of the Hastings Tapestry,
    performances by the Hastings Philharmonic , the art exhibitions etc. There appears to be a touch of pleasure at problems suffered by the Funding family which I find very disturbing but not surprising in the light of precious articles. Rye News has also ignored the major investments in building a globally recognised Piano concerto completion and a full Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra.
    This development will bring new, high class performance space to Rye which is badly needed so I hope that it will be completed. A healthy future for Rye requires a lot of capital investment and a willingness to pursue a vision so please do not turn away those that want to do that.

  6. I worked as a volunteer on the wonderful Tapestry Project, giving local people (and many from further afield) the chance to see the Hastings Tapestry, hidden out of sight for so long due to lack of funds.
    It cost well over a hundred thousand pounds to mount, made no profit, and many hundreds of people came to see it on each of the days it was open. The response from visitors was fantastic. Many came more than once. Hardly a vanity project.

    The tone of this article and selective use of phrases from the report gives a sinister implication that Martello have what the author calls a “master plan” for the town.
    The point about the disputed provenance of a painting is irrelevant and a cheap shot. I notice that the wonderful Hastings International Piano Competition funded by the Kowitz family doesn’t get a mention. Again, it makes no profit, on the contrary.
    In a time of underfunding of the Arts and the squeeze of public money generally, I find it staggering that the Kowitz’s interest and generosity towards the local Arts scene is so under appreciated.

  7. I think it is hugely disappointing that this negative attitude has been taken to a project that would be an obvious asset to this town. As Michael Eve said, Rye has already benefited from the gallery. And the improvement to this area is there to be seen already. And what is wrong with a pedestrian/cyclist bridge to provide access to Rye Harbour Road? Isn’t this all down to English negativity and can’t-do attitude?

    • Interesting to read other peoples views on kevin McCarthys report, of course everyone would like this new venue to be a success, but everything comes at a price,and has to be sustainably,and the only way to make it that way,is i beleive at the expense of Rye Comunity centre,and the tilling green centre, put everything in these large premises, and help make it pay for itself, and make it a hub for local use,as it would be a great venue for all occasions,and not just the arts set. We in Rother already contribute half a million pounds a year,to a White elephant on bexhill seafront, and if proper thought,and management was put into Bridge point, im sure it could become a success story for Rye in the 21st century, and not a burden to the owners, and an unsustainable project.

  8. The improvements made to the area around Rock Channel have made the area much better than it was 18 months ago. The new houses are very different to anything else in the town and the more I see them the more I start to like the design. Any use of the old Bournes yard is obviously welcome and for a first set of events things have been very positive.

    As for selling the houses, personally I feel that doing something with the roadway Directly off South Undercliff past the terrace housing and entrance to Jempsons yard would massively help.

    As Officer in Charge of the Sea Cadets practically next to the gallery we are always pro improvement to the area however with the lack of parking I do have slight access and safety concerns for our young travelling too and from the unit if we both have events on at the same time

  9. Echoing others, I also perceive a negative tone to the article.
    The development surely must be good for Rye. Of course it will have to include some expensive housing, otherwise it won’t get built. What’s the alternative – sell the whole site to a developer for housing ? Leave it derelict?

  10. I have stopped watching the media question time at the end of the daily corona virus report on TV because I find it so negative and sceptical, and I am inclined to agree with those who found the article about developments in the Rock Channel area and some of the ensuing comments to be in the same vein. As an ‘ordinary’ Ryer who lives in this area, I welcome proposals to tidy it up. I know it is tantamount to heresy to suggest that developers might actually be quite nice human beings, but the people I have met and spoken to from Martello have actually seemed to be just that.

  11. Another tenant for the Bridge point centre, could be the creative centre,once East Sussex county council sell the school site on, with plenty of space in these large warehouses,its the best way forward to make the development sustainable, for all to enjoy in Rye, but it must be for everyone, and not the privileged few in the art world, else as stated by the real people in the know,it will be unsustainable.

  12. Martello/Kowitz are also buying up properties in Pett Level. They have permission to turn a single dwelling into two large detached houses which will be the first buildings seen as one drives into the village from the east. They also have plans in at Rother to demolish a private members club (which detracts from the value of the two new houses) and rebuild with another “buffer” house and rebuilt club, although one very different to the current establishment and aimed at a very different clientele. Having said that, they are several months behind with the first project and members of the club are angry that the club will have to close for at least a couple of years.

  13. Coming late to this and I appreciate I’m an outsider, but as someone staying in the holiday flats on Rock Channel I’d already been thinking the area needed some sort of master plan that the local council and landlords have so far failed to provide. At the moment the poor road surface, the lack of riverside path, the abandoned buildings and cars, the bits of temporary fencing and whoever it is who seems to light a smoky bonfire every night are crying out for someone to make the most of the area’s potential. Maybe they should be gjven the chance if no one else will do it?


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